January 4, 1999
No single issue motivates elected officials like education. Addressing the educational woes of our nation is a task both political parties loudly claim as theirs, each claiming to hold the "best" solution.
Sadly, though, the solutions often presented are nothing more than different sides of the same big-government coin. President Clinton says he wants to fund a hundred-thousand new teachers for the classrooms, though the specifics of the program mean billions of dollars with more federal control and more bureaucrats, but not many teachers.
A lot of Republicans want to collect more federal taxes and then disperse the funds in form of grants to the states. But that involves more federal bureaucracy costing millions and giving us more bureaucrats to administer the grants.
For twenty years, our nation's schools have been in decline, but not because our kids are less intelligent or our teachers less capable. The problem has been the people running the programs; not the principals or superintendents, but the federal regulations that trickle down through various levels of various bureaucracies.
Operating through existing grant programs and the so-called "free lunch" initiatives, the federal government has a stifling stranglehold on education that plays to the lowest common denominators.
What's needed to release this trend toward mediocrity is not more federal spending and programs, but rather less federal intervention and more real parental control. No one should oppose making sure kids get the best education possible. Of course, the vested interests in public education programs are the first to oppose parental choice, because any given parent might choose an option other than the government schools.
Different problems exist in different places and that is precisely why centralized education policies do not work. The reality is that the challenges and problems faced by one locale is not an issue in another. The answer is not to deny this reality, but rather to aggressively promote an honest solution. In a word, that solution is defederalization. The federal government should reduce the federal tax burden so that states and localities, working closely with parents, can best provide for their own educational needs.
I will continue to support initiatives that let parents keep their money and decide how best to educate their kids. One such initiative is my Family Education Freedom Act. This legislation would allow parents to take up to $3,000 per year per child for education-related expenses such as tutoring, field trips, computers, tuition and books, and would be equally accessible and useful for parents who place their children in public, private or home school settings.
Another useful tool for parents is the Education Savings Account. This would allow parents to place pre-tax dollars in designated accounts to spend on their children's education.
Allowing parents the financial freedom to choose between more choices can be only beneficial.
A very real concern in education is that while there a great number of people who would make fine teachers, they are unwilling to enter the field because the salary is simply not competitive with what they can make in other professions.
With the seating of the new Congress, I plan on introducing legislation that would give significant tax breaks to classroom teachers of both public and private schools. Simply cutting federal taxes can amount to a significant increase in take-home pay and would go a long way in making the profession more attractive to a perspective teacher.
If we are serious about wanting to improve the system of education in our nation, we should be willing -- for the sake of our children's future -- to stop doing those things which simply do not work. Experience has proven that federal intervention in education doesn't work.
Parents know best the educational needs of their children. It's time for the federal government to get out of the way.